By Bob Uphues
Marshall Savings and Loan, which once called 3722 Harlem Ave. in Riverside home before it was seized by the state, hadn't always cultivated the high profile it had attained by the time it was celebrating its 100 Million Dollar-versary in January 1963.
Until Henry Moravec Sr. and his brother, Jerome, became president and treasurer of the association, respectively, in the 1950s, it was positively sleepy.
The thrift was established in 1904 in the Marshall Square section of the predominantly Bohemian Chicago neighborhood of South Lawndale, commonly referred to as Little Village.
Established as the Marshall Building, Loan and Homestead Association, one of its earliest presidents was a man named Anton Dolezal, who owned a neighborhood laundry business.
According to the Sept. 17, 1910 edition of "The American Contractor," Dolezal pulled building permits to construct a two-story brick building at 2448 S. Kedzie Ave. The red brick structure still stands today, identifiable by the initials "A.D." on the façade.
Dolezal is listed as living at that address in the 22nd Annual Report of Building, Loan and Homestead Associations, presented in 1914 to the governor by the state's auditor of public accounts. Dolezal; his wife, Catherine; and their daughter, Vlasta lived on the second-floor of the building in an apartment above the ground-level storefront.
He's also listed as president of the association, which declared its fiscal year 1913 assets at about $65,000. But Marshall didn't go in for much advertising or promotion, apparently.
In the 1915 "Directory and Almanac of the Bohemian Population of Chicago," published by the Bohemian-American Hospital Association -- a comprehensive listing of every Bohemian religious, educational and commercial institution in the city and chock full of statistics about Czechs all over the country – the Marshall Building, Loan and Homestead Association didn't see fit to advertise, though 33 other banking and financial businesses did.
Dolezal himself bought an ad in the almanac for his California Laundry, which listed its address at 2448-50 S. Kedzie Ave. and included a picture of the proprietor.
Marshall Savings kept such a low profile that it wasn't even listed in the Chicago telephone directory until, by all appearances, December 1957, after the institution already had moved to Riverside.
On Nov. 23, 1929, the Saturday before Thanksgiving, the 22-year-old Vlasta Dolezal married 27-year-old Henry Moravec. The couple moved in with Vlasta's parents in the flat on Kedzie Avenue.
The couple was still living in the flat with Anton and Catherine Dolezal in 1940, according to the 1940 census, which lists the then 38-year-old Henry Moravec as the proprietor of a real estate business. The 1940 census also notes that Vlasta and Henry Moravec had an 8-year-old son, Henry Jr.
Throughout that time, Marshall began to grow as a savings and loan association. In March 1926, Marshall merged with the Karl Havlicek Building and Loan and in 1932, James Drnek was named chairman of the board of the directors, a position he would hold until his death in July 1959.
Minutes of the Marshall Building, Loan and Homestead Association from 1908 to 1932 are part of the collection at the Chicago History Museum, acquired by the Federal Home Loan Bank after the state seized Marshall Savings and Loan.
The minutes are strictly in Czech, except for copies of certain contracts. No records exist for the association from 1932-56. When they resume, in 1957, Drnek is still chairman of the board. But the association's name had changed to Marshall Savings and Loan and its president was Henry J. Moravec Sr.
The real estate broker was now also a banker. And following the death of Drnek in 1959, the board minutes reflect an aggressiveness toward expansion and a penchant for risky land speculation that is nowhere to be seen in the brief meetings of the board under the direction of its founders.
By 1957 there was another big change. No longer was Marshall Savings and Loan located in the building Dolezal had erected on Kedzie Avenue. It was now ensconced at 3722 Harlem Ave. in Riverside.
It's not exactly clear how Henry Moravec Sr. came to be president of Marshall Savings and Loan, but that event appears to have occurred around 1950, when the association began its move to the suburbs.
The relocation was engineered by savings and loan officials associated with the Dolezal family. Henry Moravec Sr. was interested in moving to Riverside as early as the mid-1940s, according to property records kept by the Cook County Recorder of Deeds.
On Jan. 21, 1946 Henry Moravec Sr. and his wife, Vlasta, purchased property at 484 Longcommon Road, although the house wasn't built there until 1952, according to records in the Riverside Historical Museum's structure file.
But the couple did live in Riverside by 1947, according to an article in November of that year in the Chicago Tribune, announcing the 50th wedding anniversary of Henry Sr.'s parents.
Henry's older brother, Jerome, also an officer of the savings and loan, made Riverside his home in 1950.
In February of that year, Jerome Moravec bought the property at 363 Longcommon Road. He sold it in 1955 to build a home closer to his brother, who by then was living at 484 Longcommon.
Jerome Moravec in 1955 built the house at 501 Byrd Road, right at the corner of Longcommon Road, just a short walk to his brother Henry's home.
On June 5, 1950 the property at 3722 Harlem Ave., which would become the Riverside home of Marshall Savings and Loan, was purchased by Emil Sus, an officer of Marshall Savings and Loan and the brother-in-law of Henry Moravec Sr.
Sus had married another of Anton Dolezal's daughters, Lillian. They would move to a home on Desplaines Avenue in Riverside. On Sept. 15, 1950, Sus transferred ownership of 3722 Harlem Ave. to Jerome Moravec via quit claim deed.
Marshall Savings and Loan made its move from the city official shortly after the Harlem Avenue property was purchased. The savings and loan, along with Henry Moravec Sr.'s real estate business, is listed in the 1952 Berwyn phone book at 3722 Harlem Ave. in Riverside.
The association's leaders then embarked on an ambitious expansion campaign to make Marshall Savings look like the player it wanted to be.
According to Riverside Building Department records, Marshall Savings obtained a building permit in April 1957 to alter the existing building at 3722 Harlem Ave. and build a two-story addition. The architect for the project was B.T. Moravec, who practiced out of his Cicero home office. He was also a member of Marshall Savings' board of directors.
In June 1958, the Chicago Tribune published a brief item about the plans for the expanded new home for Marshall Savings and Loan in Riverside, and in January 1959 the association held an open house to show off its newly remodeled headquarters.
The Tribune published a photo of the newly remodeled interior. It was quite something.
"Brown, gold and aquamarine provide the color motif for all the furnishings," the Tribune item from Jan. 4, 1959 stated. "There's a large, landscaped parking lot at the building for customers."
They weren't close to being done.
In May 1960, Marshall Savings and Loan obtained permits to demolish an old truck garage to the north of the bank and build a huge new addition in its place. Construction on the "million-dollar addition" started in July 1960, according to the Chicago Tribune.
"The new 36,000-square-foot two-story building with full basement will connect with the association's present office and is expected to be complete by mid-1961," the Trib reported.
The article also commented on the building's "unusual exterior … of porcelain paneling and a multi-colored panel above the main entrance [displaying] the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance corporation seal."
Other amenities in the new building included a "circular-type elevator" and "a free-form marble staircase [which] will follow the contour of the elevator." In addition, "inter-office communications and information will be expedited by a pneumatic tube system throughout both the new and old buildings."
In 1962, the savings and loan would embark on another construction project, this time an addition to the west, mirroring the one to the north of the original building. It was nearing completion in December 1962, just in time for the January 1963 open house.
Completion of the final touches would last into spring. In May 1963, a photographer from the Chicago Sun-Times snapped a photo of a proud Jerome Moravec standing atop the roof overlooking the corner of Harlem and Ogden, pointing out the enormous "M" and the digital display below it, which would record the time and temperature.
Despite looking like a well-oiled cash machine that was at the top of its game, Marshall Savings and Loan needed money when the Moravecs rolled out the much-publicized 100 Million Dollar-versary, and they were hoping that their annual open house would again deliver for them.
Since the spring of 1962, many of the association's depositors in the suburbs were getting a little uneasy about having their money tied up in an institution that was receiving a lot of negative publicity in the daily press.
By May of 1963, when the big M loomed over Harlem and Ogden, some depositors already had positively panicked.
What made them jittery was Marshall Savings and Loan's involvement with a mob-connected impresario and his dream hotel near O'Hare Airport.